Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dilly Beans

A recipe from Moogie. Dilly Beans were a real favorite of and traditional Christmas present for Grandmother Up Down. These take time to make and must be made using good canning practices. Though I remember seeded dill heads in Moogie's Dilly Beans they are not listed as an ingredient in her recipe.  I've actually stopped making them in recent years since some of the last batches I made turned cloudy white near the bottom of the jar. MAY 2010 Update: see explanation that follows recipe.  OCT 2012: Made two batches, "traditional" and 10 minute water bath using raw beans.  Since I had not made this recipe before with the thought of sharing, additional comments about both techniques are inserted in the text below. OCT 2016:  Between 2008 and 2016  I've made dozens of "traditional" batches successfully. It's all about the salt!

3 pounds fresh green beans (as straight as possible)
½ c chopped dill [minimum, I often use more]
[6 or more heads of seeded dill]
3 cloves garlic halved and peeled [I use more]

Wash beans, snip tips but leave whole. Parboil, covered one pound at a time in unsalted boiling water 5-10 minutes [I do 5 minutes maximum, less for small, thin beans] or until crispy tender. Lift out with slotted spoon and place in a large bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Pack beans upright in hot sterilized canning jarsPlace medium head of dill, dill greens and garlic in each jar. [I usually put some in the bottom of the jar and some in the top.]

WHILE COOKING BEANS: Heat to boiling:

2 c water
2 c vinegar [I use cider vinegar]
4 T Kosher/canning salt (see notes on salt below)
4 t sugar
½ t cayenne pepper [OCT 2012: used 1 t]

[OCT 2012 Quantity check:  The beans I used were on the small, thin size.  For 6.3 pounds of beans, I used almost 4 times the above liquid;  the raw beans did not pack as densely as the blanched beans (about 2 more ounces less per pint jar) and thus required more liquid.  The total yield was 6 pint jars of water bath Dilly Beans and 6 pint and 2 12-ounce jars of "traditional" Dilly Beans.  Note: Blanched beans keep cooking in vinegar-water.  Beans on left were packed about half an hour before beans on right.]

Pour boiling mixture into jars to fill to rim and seal following canning jar manufacturer’s directions. Cool, label and store in a cool place.

12 May 2010:
Today I got an e-mail from Alex:

"I was thinking about making these this summer, and just reviewed your recipe. Shouldn't the recipe call for boiling the filled jars (after sealing) in a boiling water canner or stock pot with a rack in the bottom? Maybe that's why yours were spoiling?"

What Alex meant by "spoiling" was "cloudy white near the bottom of the jar". Years ago in the days before on-line search, when I consulted with a local home-economics teacher, she suggested I try canning salt rather than table salt. A Google search today confirms this theory:

"pickling salt = canning salt = canning and pickling salt

Pickling salt is similar to table salt, but lacks the iodine and anti-caking additives that turn pickles dark and the pickling liquid cloudy. Pickles made with table salt would still be good to eat, but they wouldn't look as appetizing.

Pickling salt is available in large bags or boxes in supermarkets, but it's hard to find in cities. In addition to pickling or canning with it, you can also use pickling salt just as you would ordinary table salt, though without the anti-caking agents it may get lumpy if exposed to moisture. To prevent lumps, put a few grains of rice in your salt shaker. To get rid of lumps, spread the salt on a cookie sheet and bake in an oven.

Don't substitute reduced-sodium salt for pickling salt when making pickles.


Coarse kosher salt - Kosher salt is preferred over table salt for canning and pickling. Like pickling salt, kosher salt is free of iodine, which can react adversely with certain foods. Some brands of kosher salt [including Morton's] contain yellow prussiate of soda, an anti-caking agent, but unlike the anti-caking additive in table salt, it doesn't cloud pickling liquids. The only drawback to using kosher salt for pickling or canning is that the grains are coarser and flakier, and can't be packed as tightly into a measuring cup as pickling salt. This raises the risk that the salt won't be properly measured. To get around this problem, measure by weight instead of volume. Since it's not as dense as pickling salt, you'll need to use more, but how much more varies by brand. 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of Morton Kosher Salt = 1 cup Morton Canning & Pickling Salt.  For other brands, it's best to measure by weight rather than volume." [OCT 2012: 1/4 c Morton's Canning Salt weighs 2.6 ounces;  1/4 c Morton's Kosher Salt weighs 2.2 ounces.]

This said, of the 11 Dilly Bean recipes I looked at on line (this was not an exhaustive search) , all used RAW - not blanched beans as in the recipe above. In 10 of the 11 recipes, jars were filled to 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the top (not clear to the top as in the recipe above). The lids were sealed and the jars processed in a hot water bath for times ranging from 5 minutes to 12 minutes (20 minutes @ 1000 feet altitude). One of the recipes used raw beans, filled the jars to the top and sealed per the recipe above.

For a hot bath alternative here is the recipe from the Ball Blue Book:

Dilly Beans

2 lbs. trimmed green beans
4 heads dill
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2-1/2 cups vinegar
2-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup canning salt (don't substitute regular salt, this is chemistry!)

Pack beans lengthwise into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. To each pint, add 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 clove garlic and 1 head dill. Combine remaining ingredients in a large sauce pot (non-reactive, like an enamel or glass pot). Bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over beans, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust caps. Process pints and quarts 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Note the Blue Ball Book recipe is heavier on the cayenne pepper and omits the sugar.

OCT 2012 Observation:  As noted above, it was harder to pack raw beans for the water bath method and beans rose to the top of the jar during the bath.  They appear much darker than the beans in the "traditional" method and I'm wondering it they will be overcooked?  Stay tuned. Tasting in November after they've had a month to cure. 

December 2012: The Taste Test  
I opened the first jars of this year's Dilly Beans over the Christmas holidays.  Alex and I blind tasted the two versions: (1) the original recipe (2) the hot water bath alternative.  Especially given the varying sizes of the beans it was very hard to distinguish between the two. Final verdict was, given same size bean, the beans made with the original recipes may be a tiny bit, but not appreciably, crisper than the water bath recipe beans.

Reviewed 5/17/17

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